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Freese v. Department of Social Services

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

August 29, 2017

KATHLEEN FREESE
v.
DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES GUSTAV CARIGLIO
v.
DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL

          Argued January 30, 2017

          Andrew S. Knott, with whom was Elizabeth A. Holman, for the appellants (plaintiff in each case).

          Patrick B. Kwanashie, assistant attorney general, with whom, on the brief, was George Jepsen, attorney general, for the appellee (defendant in both cases).

          DiPentima, C. J., and Mullins and Flynn, Js.

         Procedural History

         Appeals from the decisions by the defendant denying the plaintiffs' applications for certain benefits, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Middlesex and transferred to the judicial district of New Britain; thereafter, the matters were transferred to the judicial district of Fairfield; subsequently, the court, Hon. Howard T. Owens, Jr., judge trial referee, granted the defendant's motions to dismiss and rendered judgments thereon, from which the plaintiffs filed separate appeals to this court; thereafter, this court consolidated the appeals. Reversed; further proceedings.

         Syllabus

         Pursuant to statute (§ 52-109), ‘‘[w]hen any action is commenced in the name of the wrong person as plaintiff, the court may, if satisfied that it was so commenced through mistake, and that it is necessary for the determination of the real matter in dispute so to do, allow any other person to be substituted or added as plaintiff.''

         The plaintiffs in both actions appealed to the trial court, pursuant to statute (§ 4-183 [a]), from the decisions of the defendant Department of Social Services denying the plaintiffs' applications for certain Medicaid benefits, which they had filed on behalf of their mothers, both of whom died before the defendant rendered final decisions in the underlying administrative proceedings. The trial court thereafter granted the defendant's motions to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and rendered judgments dismissing both appeals. Thereafter, the plaintiffs filed separate appeals to this court, which consolidated the appeals. The trial court had determined that because the plaintiffs' decedents died before they brought the appeals and because the plaintiffs did not bring the appeals as executors or administrators of their decedents' estates, the plaintiffs lacked standing. Moreover, although the plaintiffs had been appointed as fiduciaries of their decedents' estates after they instituted the appeals and before the trial court ruled on the defendant's motions to dismiss, the trial court denied the plaintiffs' requests to cure the jurisdictional defects pursuant to the remedial statute, § 52-109, by substituting themselves, in their capacities as estate fiduciaries, as plaintiffs in the administrative appeals.

         Held:

         1. The trial court properly concluded that the plaintiffs lacked standing to appeal:

a. The plaintiffs' claim that they had standing, pursuant to certain state regulations (§ 17b-10-1), to assert their decedents' rights in representative capacities lacked merit, as the plaintiffs' standing to appeal derived from§ 4-183 (a), and the state regulations could not diminish the standing requirements set forth in § 4-183 or a similar enabling statute (§ 17b-61 [b]), which do not confer standing to appeal to any party eligible to request a fair hearing, as claimed by the plaintiffs; moreover, although the plaintiffs cited § 17b-61 (b) as support for their claim that the person who applied for the fair hearing may appeal from the decision to the Superior Court, that statute provides that an individual who applies for a fair hearing may appeal from that decision provided that he or she also is aggrieved, and it does not diminish the standing requirements set forth in § 4-183 (a) for filing administrative appeals.
b. The plaintiffs failed to plead facts establishing aggrievement, as the operative complaints alleged that the defendant prejudiced the rights of the plaintiffs' decedents by improperly denying the applications, and the plaintiffs thus failed to allege that they have any specific personal and legal interests in the decisions to establish their aggrievement and standing; moreover, the plaintiffs failed to allege facts establishing their standing to appeal under the right of survival statute (§ 52-599), which abrogates the common-law rule that causes of action do not survive the death of a plaintiff, as neither plaintiff commenced their appeal as an executor or administrator of their decedent's estate, and § 52-599 (b) is limited to executors or administrators and does not authorize actions by parties such as next friends, putative administrators, or estate examiners, and, therefore, the plaintiffs failed to plead sufficient facts to establish aggrievement.

         2. The trial court improperly granted the defendants' motions to dismiss instead of giving the plaintiffs an opportunity to cure the jurisdictional defect by substituting themselves, as fiduciaries of their decedents' respective estates, as plaintiffs in the appeals: that court improperly denied substitution and concluded that the plaintiffs' administrative appeals were not legally cognizable actions capable of being cured by § 52-109 or the right to survival statute (§ 52-599) because they were commenced by parties without authorization to sue and, consequently, were nullities, as the plaintiffs here lacked authority to bring the appeal but did not lack the capacity to sue so as to render their administrative appeals nullities, the mere fact that their action failed to confer jurisdiction on the court did not preclude that jurisdictional defect from being cured through substitution, and adding the plaintiffs here to correct a mistake in ascertaining the real plaintiff in interest did not prejudice the defendant because it was fully apprised of the claims against it and was prepared to defend against them, and the alternative grounds asserted by the defendant regarding why substitution was unavailable were without merit; nevertheless, because the court did not determine whether the failure of the plaintiffs to bring the actions in their capacities as fiduciaries of their decedents' estates was due to an error, misunderstanding or misconception, which is a prerequisite for substitution under § 52-109, the cases were remanded for further proceedings to make such findings and to determine whether substitution is necessary to determine the real matter in dispute.

          OPINION

          FLYNN, J.

         Our Supreme Court has construed remedial statutes liberally to give effect to their purpose. See Dorry v. Garden, 313 Conn. 516, 533, 98 A.3d 55 (2014). The plaintiffs, Kathleen Freese and Gustav Cariglio, [1] appeal from judgments of the trial court dismissing their administrative appeals. The principal issue in these cases is whether General Statutes § 52-109, [2] a remedial savings statute, could be utilized by the plaintiffs to save from dismissal their administrative appeals commenced in the names of the wrong persons as plaintiffs.

         In these consolidated administrative appeals, the defendant, the Department of Social Services, denied applications for Medicaid benefits that the plaintiffs filed on behalf of their respective mothers, Noreen McCusker and Arlene Cariglio (Arlene), both of whom died before the defendant rendered final decisions in the underlying administrative proceedings. The plaintiffs appealed those denials to the trial court, but because their decedents died before they brought the appeals, and because they did not bring the appeals as executors or administrators of their decedents' estates, the court determined that the plaintiffs lacked standing and dismissed their appeals for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Furthermore, although the plaintiffs had been appointed as fiduciaries of their decedents' estates after they instituted the appeals and before the court ruled on the defendant's motions to dismiss, the court denied the plaintiffs' requests to cure the jurisdictional defect by substituting themselves, in their capacities as estate fiduciaries, as plaintiffs in the administrative appeals pursuant to the remedial savings statute § 52-109 and the similarly worded rule of practice. See Practice Book § 9-20.

         On appeal to this court, the plaintiffs claim that the trial court (1) improperly concluded that they did not have standing to bring their administrative appeals because, despite the fact that they did not bring the appeals as fiduciaries of their decedents' estates, they nonetheless had standing, pursuant to the regulations set forth in the Uniform Policy Manual (UPM); Regs., Conn. State Agencies § 17b-10-1; to assert their decedents' rights in representative capacities, and (2) improperly denied their requests for substitution because, even if they did not have standing initially, they were subsequently appointed as estate fiduciaries and, thus, were entitled to cure the standing problem pursuant to § 52-109 as applied by our Supreme Court in Kortner v. Martise, 312 Conn. 1, 91 A.3d 412 (2014). Although we agree with the court that the plaintiffs initially lacked standing to commence their appeals in representative capacities, we conclude that the court's stated justifications for denying the plaintiffs' requests for substitution of the fiduciaries of their decedents' estates were legally incorrect. Because, however, the court did not issue any findings as to whether the plaintiffs' failure to name the proper parties in their administrative appeals was due to a mistake, as is required for substitution to be available under § 52-109, we reverse the court's judgment and remand the case for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

         The facts and procedural history relevant to these appeals are undisputed. Freese applied for Medicaid benefits on behalf of her mother, Noreen McCusker, in October, 2013. On April 27, 2014, before the defendant ruled on the application, McCusker died. Thereafter, the defendant denied Freese's application because McCusker's assets exceeded the limit for eligibility for Medicaid. Acting on her mother's behalf, Freese requested a fair hearing with the defendant's Office of Legal Counsel, Regulations and Administrative Hearings. On September 26, 2014, after conducting the hearing, the Office of Legal Counsel concurred that McCusker's assets rendered her ineligible for Medicaid and denied Freese's appeal. Contesting the merits of that decision, Freese commenced an administrative appeal to the trial court on October 29, 2014. In her complaint, Freese alleged that McCusker's rights were prejudiced because the defendant improperly deprived McCusker of her entitlement to Medicaid benefits. Freese further alleged that she was aggrieved ‘‘by virtue of being next friend and putative administrator for [McCusker].'' More than one month later, on December 11, 2014, Freese was appointed administratrix of McCusker's estate.

         Cariglio's action followed a similar procedural path. Cariglio's mother, Arlene, died on November 4, 2013. Just over one week later, Cariglio applied for Medicaid benefits on Arlene's behalf. The defendant denied Cariglio's application because Arlene had died and because Arlene's assets exceeded the eligibility limit. Cariglio requested a fair hearing and, following the hearing, the Office of Legal Counsel denied Cariglio's appeal on August 12, 2014. Cariglio commenced an administrative appeal in the trial court on September 16, 2014, alleging, in his operative complaint, that Arlene's rights were prejudiced by the defendant's erroneous finding that Arlene was ineligible for benefits. Cariglio further alleged that he brought the appeal in his capacity as Arlene's ‘‘co-attorney-in-fact, next friend, and putative coexecutor of [Arlene's] will.''[3] With regard to aggrievement, Cariglio alleged that he was aggrieved as Arlene's ‘‘estate examiner.''[4] Over a month later, on December 3, 2014, Cariglio was appointed as a coexecutor of Arlene's estate.

         Around the time when the plaintiffs were appointed as fiduciaries of their decedents' estates, the defendant moved to dismiss the plaintiffs' administrative appeals for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. In both motions, the defendant argued that the plaintiffs lacked standing to appeal from the denials of their Medicaid applications because they were not personally aggrieved by the denials and, furthermore, did not institute the appeals as administrators or executors of their decedents' estates. In response, the plaintiffs filed motions to substitute themselves, in their newly-obtained capacities as fiduciaries of their respective decedents' estates, as party plaintiffs in order to cure any jurisdictional defects. The plaintiffs both asserted that they commenced their appeals ‘‘based on a good-faith belief, not being the result of negligence, '' that they were the proper parties to appeal. The plaintiffs also requested leave to amend their complaints to that effect.[5] In their objections to the defendant's motions to dismiss, the plaintiffs argued that, on the basis of Kortner v. Martise, supra, 312 Conn. 1, substitution of an estate fiduciary as a plaintiff to cure a defect in standing is warranted under § 52-109 where, as in their cases, the original action was mistakenly brought in the name of an unauthorized party. Alternatively, the plaintiffs argued that, pursuant to the regulations set forth in the UPM, they had representative standing to appeal on their decedents' behalves despite the fact that, when they commenced their appeals, they had not yet been appointed as fiduciaries of their decedents' estates.

         After hearing argument on May 12, 2015, and ordering supplemental briefing, the court issued memoranda of decision dismissing the plaintiffs' appeals. With regard to Freese, the court began by distinguishing her case from our Supreme Court's decision in Kortner v. Martise, supra, 312 Conn. 14, reasoning that, under Kortner, ‘‘substitution is permissible . . . only if the decedent had a colorable claim of injury during his life that is a real matter in dispute . . . such that the decedent had standing to bring the action himself, '' whereas McCusker died before Freese commenced her administrative appeal and, therefore, ‘‘ha[d] neither a vindicable right nor a colorable claim of injury that the action implicates.'' The court further observed that, because Freese's appeal was not commenced by an executor or administrator of McCusker's estate, it was incapable of being cured by substitution: ‘‘Being a nullity and incapable of vesting the court with subject matter jurisdiction over any controversy, a suit initiated by a decedent or his heir, or by another on their behalf, cannot be an action within the meaning of § 52-109, that section contemplating a legally cognizable right of action. Further, substitution under § 52-109 cannot retroactively validate such a suit.''[6] Accordingly, the court determined that Kortner was inapposite, declined to permit substitution, and dismissed Freese's appeal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. In denying substitution, the court did not determine whether Freese's failure to appeal in her capacity as administratrix of McCusker's estate was the result of a mistake. See General Statutes § 52-109 (substitution appropriate only if trial court is satisfied that original action was commenced in name of improper party through mistake).

         In its memorandum of decision dismissing Cariglio's appeal, the court reasoned that, to have standing to appeal, Cariglio was required to commence the appeal in his capacity as a fiduciary of Arlene's estate, and that Cariglio's operative complaint failed to allege that he brought his appeal in such a capacity. The court also rejected Cariglio's argument that his appeal could be saved by § 52-109 or General Statutes § 52-599, [7] reasoning that, because the appeal failed to invoke the court's jurisdiction in the first place, ‘‘there [was] no cause or right of action to save.'' Furthermore, the court concluded that Cariglio failed to plead aggrievement, as is required to have standing to appeal from an administrative decision. See General Statutes § 4-183 (a). Thus, the court declined to permit substitution and dismissed Cariglio's administrative appeal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.[8] As in Freese's case, the court did not determine whether Cariglio failed to appeal as coexecutor of Arlene's estate due to a mistake. These consolidated appeals followed.

         The plaintiffs claim that court improperly granted the defendant's motions to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. First, they argue that the court erroneously concluded that they lacked standing to appeal because, pursuant to the regulations set forth in the UPM, they had standing to appeal in representative capacities. Second, the plaintiffs contend that, on the basis of § 52-109 and Kortner v.Martise, supra, 312 Conn. 1, the court erred in refusing to permit substitution in lieu of dismissing the cases.[9] As set forth subsequently in this opinion, we disagree with the plaintiffs' claim that they had standing to appeal in capacities other than as fiduciaries of their respective decedents' estates. However, we reverse the judgments of dismissal and remand the cases ...


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